Arsenal can take a major step towards Champions League qualification when they host Newcastle on Monday.
A comprehensive 3-0 defeat at Everton earlier in April left the north Londoners’ hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League hanging by a thread. Roberto Martinez’s team were dominant throughout at Goodison Park and took their European destiny into their own hands with that result.
However, since then, Arsenal have recorded restorative wins over West Ham and Hull City while Everton have lost two of their last three matches.
And now Arsene Wenger’s side would open up a four-point lead in the final Champions League spot should they secure a fifth consecutive Premier League victory over Newcastle.
Wenger also looks set to be around to lead any challenge in Europe next season after all but confirming that he will remain in charge of the side when his contract expires at the end of the season.
He told beIN Sport: “Look, I have said that many times already, I have given my word to this club and that I want to continue where I am … that means to stay.”
Wenger’s immediate focus will be on his selections to face Newcastle, with England international Jack Wilshere still thought to be a week or so away from full fitness following a foot problem. Fellow midfielder Aaron Ramsey returned to make a first Premier League start since Boxing Day at Hull and showed glimpses of his superb early-season form, while Thomas Vermaelen could be back from a hamstring strain.
For Newcastle, meanwhile, manager Alan Pardew will return to the dugout at the Emirates Stadium following a seven-match ban.
The Magpies have won just once since Pardew’s clash with Hull midfielder David Meyler during a 4-1 victory in March, with six defeats in seven outings seeing their season unravel, and the boss has vowed to return to the touchline a reformed character in the bid to turn that slump around.
“I think I will sit down a little bit more but I still will be on the touchline,” he told the press. “It’s important that the team sees I’m there – we are a team and I am part of that.
“I have thought about my situation going forward and I think I will be better for it.”
Newcastle must look to bounce back without striker Papiss Cisse, who suffered a broken kneecap to end his season during their 2-1 home defeat by Swansea City.
Fellow forward Luuk de Jong faces a late fitness test due to an ankle problem sustained during the same match, while Moussa Sissoko (hamstring) could return.